Friday, April 9, 2010

Crossing The Line With Joe West

Joe West really has really put people in a tizzy.

Then again, as an umpire, West is used to taking some heat.

It all started with some comments West made to the Bergen (N.J.) Record. The comments were made in response to questions about umpire Angel Hernandez, a member of West's crew, who refused to grant  timeout on at least three occasions in the Yankees' 6-4 victory on Tuesday.

"They're the two clubs that don't try to pick up the pace," West said. "They're two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest?
"It's pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.
"The commissioner of baseball says he wants the pace picked up We try. And [Tuesday night's game] still almost went four hours.
"All of baseball looks to these two clubs to pick up the pace. Angel did everything he could. The players aren't working with us.
"This is embarrassing, a disgrace to baseball."

OK. Let's be fair here. Some of what West said is accurate and fair, but he also crosses a very big line in called the Yankees and Red Sox pathetic, embarrassing and a disgrace.

Yankees-Red Sox games do take too long. Sunday's took three hours, 46 minutes, Tuesday's 3:48 and Wednesday's 10-inning game 3:21. Now I love baseball, but that is far too long. The only saving grace is that most Yankees-Sox games are good games -- dramatic and riveting.

And yes, the umpires are responsible for picking up the pace of the game. Angel Hernandez was under no obligation to grant timeouts in those spots and there was nothing wrong with what he did. In general -- not just Yankees-Sox games -- there is too much stepping out of the batter's box and many pitchers take too long between pitches.

And yes, the style of ball the Yankees and Red Sox play lends itself to longer games. Both lineups love to work the pitchers and the pitchers know they will pay for any mistake, so the tend to be too fine at times.

All of that is fair. All of that is accurate, though it should be noted that despite these long games, the two teams do generate baseball's best TV ratings.

Associated Press
West had every right to defend Hernandez and the tactics used to speed things up. That part is fine.

The problem lies in the way West characterizes and attacks the teams. It's out of line.

The Yankees' and Red Sox's first obligation is to win -- for the owners who have invested millions to win championships, and the fans who have supported them so well.

It is not to the commissioner's office. It is not to the whims and desires of Bud Selig and Bob Watson. And it certainly is not to the umpires.

No one on either team defied the umpires. No one broke any rules. They played the game and abided by the umps rulings, even the incorrect ones. Angel Hernandez didn't call time and pitches that were delivered did count. Again, Hernandez did nothing wrong, and just as importantly, no one on the Yankees or Red Sox have made even so much as a peep about Hernandez's refusals.

Another problem is that players, managers and teams are not allowed to criticize the umpires, lest they face a hefty fine. And as we have seen in last year's playoffs, the umpires are far from perfect. At the very least, the umpires should be held to the same standards when it comes to discussing players, managers and team. West should be facing a fine.

But the big problem, and the most important problem is that while the speed of the game is the umpires' responsibility, it is far from the most important issue facing our games' arbiters.

If umpires want to improve the game, they need to start by getting the calls right. The playoffs last season were an embarrassment. There were far too many blown calls, and yes, that damages the integrity of the game far, far more than the length of Yankees-Red Sox games.

And yes, Angel Hernandez -- the very same Angel Hernandez who refused to grant time -- made some of the most egregious calls.

I'd rather see games go closer to 3:30 in length with the umpires conferring and checking instant replay to get the calls right than see a 2:45 game in which the umps blew calls and possibly altered the outcome.

So Joe West, go ahead, discuss the need speed up the game. Talk about ways to do it. But until you and your colleagues become much more accurate and get more calls right, stay away from calling the World Champion Yankees, the archrival Red Sox -- and any other team for that matter embarrassing -- pathetic and and disgrace.

The blown calls you and your colleagues have made have been far more embarrassing, pathetic, disgraceful and damaging to the game.

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